It was a long but festive day of competition in a town everyone calls Cross Country USA
Lavern Gibson Course; Terre Haute, IN-
Saturday was an arduous day if you came to watch the featured Championship Boys and Girls races. Why? There was a total of nine races prior to the boys and at times it tested even the most ardent fan. But as they say, 'the best things in life come to those who are the most patient.'
The top four teams according to the projections were St. Charles East IL, Wheaton-Warrenville South IL, Elmhurst York IL, and Ft. Wayne Concordia IN.
If you had a keen eye for Illinois cross country, you were able to spot the singlets with green over white which belongs to York. This collection of guys ran a much better race than at state by getting out in a better position and racing near the front pack. Last year's individual national qualifier senior Ethan Kern ran his best race of the season and put six points on the board followed by fellow steady senior Daniel Klysh in the seventh slot. All seven Duke scorers placed among the top 50 for a score of 128 points. Despite the great feat and auto qualifying for Portland for the first time in a while, they were head by Wheaton South.
Wheaton South proved to be their best and completely focused since a smarting at state sectionals on Nov 2. The Tigers continually got better each week and put it all together in Cross Country Town USA. Senior William Hauenstein placed third in the team scoring which spawned a magnificent 34-second spread. The nearly perfectly executed race was impossible to overcome and the final tally netted 75 points for the auto qualifying win.
St. Charles East and Ft. Wayne Concordia placed third and fourth with 154 and 183 points and will await the at-large committee's decision for a bid to Portland in a few weeks. Illinois would cop seven of the top ten places.
The individual race was an honest but tactical one for most of the way. Among the favorites in a sea of deep talent was Illinois star Josh Methner of Hersey. Methner, who was coming off of an all-time record-breaking performance at state, got in the mix right away. He along with Caleb Brown (OH), Evan Bishop (MI), Jared Kreis (IL), Jack Spamer (MI), and so many others, hit the first kilometer in a fast 2:43-2:45 range. Ultimately, Methner and Brown broke away from the crowd late in the latter kilometers to go 1-2 in 14:57.7 and 15:02.5 respectively. Mhalicki Bronson (OH), Bishop and Spamer close out the 3-5 auto spots to Portland.
The two nationally ranked titans Beavercreek, OH and Naperville North, IL on paper were supposed to be in another galaxy in terms of anyone else challenging them for the two auto spots to Portland.
As expected Beavercreek got the jump on Naperville North on the strength of their powerful quartet of Taylor Ewert, Savannah Roark, Jodie Pierce, and Juliann Williams. The upperclassmen crew has gotten the job done all season long. The Beavers got out fast running near the front of the 200+ runner field. Ewert ran in the elite pack virtually all race long before settling for a #2 team place score. Roark, Pierce, and Williams would connect on top 20 finishes to eventually capitulating to second overall scoring 112 points.
Naperville North had a tall hill to climb because of a slow start with no runner in the top 100 at the 2k. Head Coach Dan Iverson was counting places as a spectator and laminated aloud that his girls had work to do. Led by Maggie Gamboa, that is exactly what the Huskies did. They began to pick up steam and attack the final three kilometers as their competition began to fade from a hard pace and the unforgiving course. Gamboa came home as the team's top runner once again with a #3 team spot to cancel out Ewert. More important was the worker bee finishes of Audrey Mendrys, Molly Morton, Campbell Petersen, and Lucy Westlake that completed the task with a score of 95 points. Yorkville IL and Hinsdale Central IL ran well in third and fourth respectively and will have to await the committee's decision in a few weeks.
The race to first individually was one that many in attendance waited all day for. Three-time defending champion Katelynne Hart of Glenbard West HS IL was vying for an unprecedented fourth title. There was doubt from a few pundits that Hart would struggle to be among the top five auto qualifiers. This was arguably the best and deepest field in meet history. Hart, Ewert, Tatum David (IL), Zofia Dudek (MI), and Erin Strzelecki (IN) were among a flock of talented runners to watch for. The breakneck pace hit a record number 3:05 and 5:15 that saw up to seven girls hanging tight for almost three kilometers. Finally, it was Hart and Dudek battling over the last 400m. Dudek pulled ahead with a strong burst but Hart's strength and speed caught Dudek with about 120m to go. Dudek veered into Hart's line of progress which impeded her momentum and allowed Dudek to hold on to the record win in 16:49.-16:49.9. It was the first time that a girl had broken 17:00 on Lavern's course.
An odd scenario that follows auto qualifiers Dudek, Hart, Ewert, David, and Strzelecki. Dudek may opt-out for the European Cross Country Championship next month because she is a citizen of Poland. Ewert's team qualified which leaves Annalyssa Crain (IN) and Zoe Duffus (IN) as a qualifier and potential at-large.